This week we turn the spotlight on the Mercat Tours Head of Development, Kathleen Brogan. She delves into Edinburgh’s history and gives us an exclusive heads-up on what to expect from Mercat Tours later this year.
How long have you worked at Mercat Tours?
Mercat Tours is a family business – it’s in the blood! My dad established Mercat in 1985 and in 1998 I went to Glasgow University to study History, then began my guide training. All Mercat guides have a history qualification and there are no exceptions for family members! In 1998, very nervous, I led my first tour. I then became a guide trainer in 2004, and in 2007 I started working full-time with the events team.
Mercat Tours provides history walks – what’s the most surprising thing people discover about Edinburgh’s past?
Most people have heard of Jekyll and Hyde but are surprised by how true it is of Edinburgh. There are contrasts everywhere and it’s fascinating; between the light and the dark, the architecture of the small, dark closes in the Old Town and the wide, elegant New Town streets, as well as the contrast in the traditional shops, pubs and restaurants in the Old Town and the more contemporary feel of the New Town.
Edinburgh was the heart of The Enlightenment, it was at the heart of world-changing developments in science, philosophy, law, and education, yet at the same time it was riddled with poverty, prostitution and countless illegal whisky stills. Visitors are surprised by stories of our colourful characters, such as Lord Monboddo – a great intellect, lawyer and socialite who believed all babies were born with tails!!
Mercat Tours also provides ghost tours and Edinburgh has been described as one of the most haunted cities in Europe. Have you ever had a paranormal experience?
Thankfully not! However, I have witnessed other people have unexplained experiences which is very unnerving. After 16 years guiding, I can tell the difference between when people on tour are nervous or jumpy and when someone has had a genuine experience. One experience that really stands out is a tour that included a 10 year boy – he definitely saw, and felt, something and it really spooked me.
Halloween must be a particularly busy time for you! Can you let me know what Mercat Tours has in store for us this year?
It’s our favourite time of year – all our guide’s love the chance to dress up at Halloween. It’s now a week-long festival at Mercat Tours. Every year we listen to visitor’s feedback and try to make changes and improvements for the following year. This year we have new tours as well as an overnight vigil for the brave, running from midnight in the Blair Street Underground Vaults.
What do you love most about your job?
I love the people I work with; there are around 70 guides, ranging from age 19 to 67, and everyone has their own passion, skills and quirks. The guides are all historians and have some fantastic hobbies including costume design, juggling, artists, acting and lecturing – a really interesting mix. And of course I love the people I get to meet on tours.
Mercat Tours has won several awards. Which one are you particularly proud of?
We won a Gold Award at the Green Business Tourism Awards – this recognises the work we do in the community with schools and charities, in particular the work we did with the Grassmarket Regeneration Project in which we commissioned people who were out of work to make sustainable recycled furniture for our shop.
What has been your career highlight so far?
One highlight was a private tour for a group of school children from Northern Ireland I did years ago.There was one wee girl who insisted she wouldn’t be scared, so much so that she bet me a stick of chewing gum that she wouldn’t jump during the tour. I finished the tour, said my goodbyes and began to walk away when I suddenly felt a tug on my cloak. Without saying a word the wee girl handed me a stick of chewing gum – it said it all!